High above the ground, a line connects two hot air balloons. Inside the balloons: two groups of daredevils who want to walk from one basket to the next — and film their journey with a camera attached to their helmets. The result is "The Balloon Highline," a nailbiting short documentary. And on Sunday, you can see whether they make it at the Telluride Moutainfilm on Tour at the Charleston Music Hall.
The annual Telluride film fest occurs Memorial Day weekend every year, and following the festival, selected films tour the country. "Telluride Mountainfilm, they've got their share of adrenaline and adventure films, but then they're also really trying to carve a niche for environmental films," explains Chris Hanson, the man behind bringing the festival to Charleston. This year marks the tour's first stop in the Holy City. Hanson, a filmmaker himself, lived in Telluride twice, once in 1995 and again in 2007. He's had two films screen in the festival, 1998's Scrapple and last year's North Slope Alaska. He also worked on two TV shows, Minds of Mountainfilm and The Outside Film Festival, both about the annual fest.
But in 2012, Hanson packed up his family and moved to Charleston. He owns Hanson Media House, a production company in town, and continues to work on films. Despite the move, he's still remained active within Mountainfilm, and this year, he wanted to share his experience with Holy City audiences.
"Last year, I went down to Mountainfilm on Tour down in Savannah — and it's grown into this three-day event," Hanson says. "They have films on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. They have coffee talks. And so, I just thought it would be great to bring it to Charleston — obviously [combining] my love for Charleston and my love for Telluride and the mountains. So this year, I'm just trying to kick off the first one."
This weekend's showcase will feature two blocks of film, each containing 10 flicks. The first, Kidz Kino, is aimed at children, and the second is an all-ages affair. The lineup for Kidz Kino has some animated films, but there's also "A Toy Train in Space," about a father who sends his son's favorite toy train Stanley high into, well, space — 18 miles up — on a weather balloon and films it. Some flicks, meanwhile, will show in both blocks, like "The Balloon Highline."
The second block is still kid-friendly, but the feature, Who Owns Water, addresses that environmental theme. It's a documentary about two brothers who paddle the Appalachiacola–Chattahoochee–Flint River Basins and tells the story of water politics in the Southeast. "You always hear about all the water politics out West, but you rarely hear about the water politics back East," Hanson adds. Because of the environmental leaning of the festival, Hanson was able to get some specialized sponsors, like Charleston Waterkeeper and Coastal Conservation League.
Since Mountainfilm on Tour visits cities across the country, it allows event organizers to select films that correlate with the different audiences. "They have a bunch that are available and then each town can kind of handpick what they want to play," says Hanson. "There is another film that is very popular, which is called Tashi and the Monk, that I've seen and really liked. But it seemed that if I were going to try and bring films to Charleston, that it would make sense to do Who Owns Water because it is totally relevant to the Southeast." Tashi and the Monk shares the story of former Buddhist monk Lobsong Phuntsok, who raises 85 abandoned children and forms a children's community in the foothills of the Himalayas. The film follows Jhamtse's newest arrival, a 5-year-old girl named Tashi.
There are a few other noteworthy films that didn't make the cut — one in particular: Hanson's own. "It's not really about me. I didn't want any confusion about why I was bringing this to Charleston," he explains. "It seemed like a conflict of interest, so I picked other films that I thought would do well."
Some of those films include "Catch It" about a French woman who surfs winter waves in Norway, a decision that leads to a very Zen revelation; "Super Mom" follows a skier in Crested Butte who comes out of retirement to shoot a ski film for her sponsor Salomon; and "14.C" that shares 14-year-old Kai Lighter's rise to be one of the country's best climbing wall competitors. But Hanson is quick to let us know that he loves all the films in the festival.
And he's already got big plans for its future. "I hope it can grow into a Friday, Saturday, Sunday thing and have coffee talks and even branch out from Charleston Music Hall somewhere down the road — or next year," Hanson says.